Expand your influence by talking to visitors

Expand your influence by talking to visitors

Sent Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Welcome to the Green Guide, the monthly newsletter published by

Greener Museums. We’ve been very busy at Greener Museums. I just

returned from running a three day workshop in Manchester, helping

museum professionals to become sustainability leaders and champions

at their organisations. This was so rewarding and I look forward to

working with this group of 25 museum professionals over the course

of 2010. In addition, I just wrapped up a project I’ve been working

on for the past year with Tate Modern and the Royal Society here in

the UK, culminating in a one-day seminar entitled Rising to the

Climate Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World.

All in all it’s been a very rewarding month, and it’s got me

thinking about how I can help museums out there do more of the “big


We know that we need to do more than just change the light bulbs in

order to have a chance in the fight against climate change

(although it’s a great start!). In this issue, we’ll look at some

ways to expand your influence on sustainability, in particular, how

to communicate to and influence your visitors.


To your greener future,

Rachel Madan, Director of Greener Museums


Here’s what’s in this issue:

*Feature Article: Expand Your Influence by Talking to Visitors

*Upcoming Events

*About Rachel Madan


Best wishes,

Rachel Madan

Director of Greener Museums


Feature Article: Expand Your Influence by Talking to Visitors

More and more museums are getting on board and taking steps to make

their operations more sustainable. This is fantastic news. But a

lot of museums, especially smaller ones, feel that there isn’t much

they can do on their own, and that a lot of their impact actually

comes from visitor impacts. This is why it’s so important to get

our visitors behind us and engage them in what we are doing on

sustainability. This sounds easy, but messages about sustainability

and in particular climate change are often greeted with scepticism,

and can turn off our visitors. So how can we avoid the pitfalls of

communicating sustainability to our visitors?


‘Selling the sizzle and not the sausage’


A recent report (www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/Sellthesizzle.pdf)

from Futerra, a sustainable communications agency, focuses on some

aspects of climate change messaging. Most communications on

sustainability to date have been trying to sell the “sausage” –

that we are going to have a horrible life in the future, a climate

hell as it were. But what we should be doing is selling a vision of

a better future (“the sizzle”).


When explaining to visitors why certain changes are happening (for

instance, that you’ve started reducing your energy use), start with

a positive vision of what this means for your local community. In

this example, it might mean that the money you’ve saved on energy

costs can be invested in collections, more programs, or extended

opening hours. The next step is to show the negative impact of what

could happen if you don’t take this action. So for example, if our

energy costs become too high and we can’t pay the bills, we might

have to close one day a week, meaning you can’t enjoy the museum or

gallery. Next, show visitors your plan–a short list of big actions

along an understandable timescale of no more than five years.

Finally, give your visitors actions that they can do right now.

Perhaps you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint–you can

encourage your visitors to travel to the museum in a low carbon

way. If you are reducing energy bills by not heating or cooling to

the same comfort standard, you will want to explain to visitors why

that is, and how they might want to bring a hat into the gallery

(during winter) or wear shorts (during the summer).


These simple statements go a long way towards communicating simple

steps, but the bigger challenge is in communicating a vision of a

more sustainable world to our visitors. There isn’t a report on

what this vision of the world will be (yet) and chances are there

will be more than one vision for different communities. Museums

can have a significant role in communicating this vision to the

wider public. Think about what your vision would be and consider

the role that your museum could play. This was the basis of the

Tate Modern event I help to plan and organize, where artists and

scientists together tried to imagine what a different future could

look like.


Your museums can help visitors to think of their daily lives now

and how these may be different in the future:

– how we get around

– what we eat and where our food comes from

– where and how we live, work and have fun


Different museums can provide different parts of the vision.

Technology and design museums can give insight into some of the

technical ‘stuff’ we will need; art museums can ‘paint a picture’

of what this future will look like; history museums can provide

some lessons from the past.


Inspiration–who’s doing this already?

The current Ministry of Food exhibition at London’s Imperial War

Museum, which shows how food rationing in war time Britain has some

of the same concerns of food security in a changing climate.


The Defining Sustainability exhibition at the Arizona Art Museum,

which finished earlier this year, looked at how art both past and

present has sought to define sustainability


New York’s Museum of Modern Art is launching a new exhibition which

looks at new ways of adapting and using the New York coastline with

predicted sea-level rises.


An alternative to an exhibition is hosting an event such as lecture

or debate to raise the same issues. Recently I helped Tate Modern

and the Royal Society to collaborate on a symposium which brought

together artists and scientists to Imagine Tomorrow’s World. The

Museum of Modern Art, New York, has also held a panel discussion

looking at Building the Modern Community.

If you do decide to hold an exhibition or event around climate

change and sustainability this also provides an opportunity for you

to advertise what you are doing to green your museum, as

illustrated in this press release for the new climate change

gallery at the Science Museum, London. It is important that you

are actually undertaking changes if you plan an exhibition along

these lines because no one is going to take advise from a hypocrite.


First simple steps

It may not always be feasible to create a whole exhibit but by

greening your museum you can show that to some extent the future is

already here. Create a vision of how you would want your museum to

look in a low carbon world and create a series of five year action

plans of how to get there. By offering rewards or incentives for

green behaviour you can let visitors know that you think green is

best. One simple way of doing this is offering visitors who travel

by public transport or bicycle discounted entrance fees or a free

drink in your restaurant.


Do remember that it is important that you don’t just preach to

visitors about what they should do but also show what you have done

and are doing to work towards the vision too. Make your

organisation’s sustainability strategy available through your

website and put information posters around the museum illustrating

what your vision is and what you are doing. Also provide

information on what visitors can do to reduce their impact in

visiting your museum. By showing how being green can be easy you

can hope to inspire others to join your vision, or perhaps create

one of their own.



Upcoming Events:

Museums and Heritage Show, May 12 + 13, 2010, Earls Court,London

I’m curating the Greener Exhibits Theatre: Bigger Impression,

Smaller Footprint. Do you think that sustainability is a good idea,

but not sure how it fits in with your exhibit programme? Do you

think a sustainable exhibition might be more expensive to put on,

and not as good quality? Are you puzzled by what a “sustainable

exhibit” might be? Are you just beginning to tack sustainability in

your organisation, but unclear as to the next steps? Then the

Greener Exhibits Theatre is the place for you.




Museums, Sustainability and Growth: Life Worth Living, 8th – 9th

July 2010

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery

I’ll be giving a keynote address at this conference examining the

unique contribution museums and heritage organisations can make to

the development of sustainable communities Lord Smith of Finsbury

(Christopher), had this to say at the 2008 conference:

“The most powerful role that museums can play in the sustainability

agenda is that they can show us how we can learn from the past in

order to live with the future.” The successful 2008 Conference

explored the opportunities for heritage organisations to help

deliver the sustainability and planned growth agendas. Theu 2010

conference will examine ways in which museums can practically

engage with such issues


Social History Curators Group Annual Conference: More for Less: Big

Impacts with Small Resources

8 – 10 July 2010, Birmingham

Whatever the size of your museum, and whatever the challenges you

face, there will be something to inspire, encourage and reassure

you at this conference. I’ll be speaking on the subject of how even

a small environmental budget can be used to large effect. I’ll be

joining speakers from the Thackray Museum, the National Waterfront

Museum, the Ryedale Folk Museum, and the London Transport Museum.

Hope to see you there!